Politics & Government

Legislative leaders raise concerns about draft school-funding regulations

Top Democrats in the Legislature have poured cold water on proposed regulations to carry out the landmark overhaul of how California allocates money to schools.

Suggesting that the draft rules are “inconsistent with the intent and letter” of the Local Control Funding Formula legislation enacted in June, Monday’s letter to Board of Education President Michael Kirst and his colleagues calls for changes that would preserve “local autonomy while providing required state guidance to ensure that funds allocated for the neediest students are spent for their benefit.”

“If statutory changes are needed to realize the promise (of the legislation) we are prepared to make them,” concluded the letter from Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and the Democratic leaders of education and budget committees in both houses.

Proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown in January and later approved by lawmakers, the funding formula aims to target more state money for English learners, students receiving free meals and foster children. The plan will take full effect by the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Lawmakers, though, largely left it up to the state Board of Education to craft the regulatory details. The state board took testimony earlier this month and is scheduled to adopt final regulations in January to carry out the plan.

Brown has said that the local funding formula would empower school officials who are in the best position to help their neediest students.

Some civil-rights and school-reform groups, though, want safeguards to ensure that the money is actually spent on students instead of disappearing into district bureaucracy and payroll.

Among other concerns, the state lawmakers wrote Monday that the draft rules’ language directing money to high-needs students could create loopholes that “allow monies intended for and generated by disadvantaged students to be spent in other ways.”

In a recent interview, Kirst, a longtime education adviser to Brown, said he has been meeting with representatives of many different education groups on the school funding regulations.

In a statement, Karen Stapf Walters, the board’s executive director, said the board appreciated this week’s letter and called the draft regulations “a starting place for discussions.”

“The board is well aware of the important task before it and is proceeding inclusively, thoughtfully and deliberately,” she said.